WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), responding heatedly to charges that Democrats are deliberately holding up Administration nominations for federal judgeships, promised Thursday that all nominees "will get an up or down vote" before next year's presidential election.
But Biden issued a thinly veiled warning that he will do his best to block those nominations unless Republicans "stop this malarkey."
"You all want to stop the judges, keep pushing," he vowed.
The clash occurred after the committee sent to the Senate floor with favorable recommendations the nominations of Associate Atty. Gen. Stephen S. Trott to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and of six others to federal district courts.
After the vote, Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S. C.) and Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N. H.) urged that the committee expedite hearings for 20 other judicial nominations still pending before the panel.
The senators complained that months-long delays in the confirmation process seriously disrupt the lives and legal practices of judicial nominees. "It's about time we stop playing games," Humphrey said. "It's really indecent."
Some Republicans, noting that some nominations have been before the committee for almost a year, have suggested that Democrats might deliberately be pursuing a slow-down strategy to leave judicial appointments to the next President.
However, Democratic leaders have blamed the backlog on the extended time consumed by consideration of President Reagan's Supreme Court nominees and asserted that each appointee requires thorough scrutiny. They noted also that conservative Republicans on the panel have themselves held up action on some candidates they thought might be too liberal.
Humphrey urged the committee to move quickly, at least on the nomination of University of San Diego law professor Bernard Siegan, who was nominated to the 9th Circuit 10 months ago. Biden promised to schedule a second hearing for Siegan next month but said the nomination of the conservative scholar is so controversial that he could not yet say when a vote might take place.
In the exchange that ensued, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) sided with Biden. "I will not . . . go along with rubber-stamping anybody," said Leahy, who heads the subcommittee that screens judicial nominees.
Staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.